7 January 2001
COLIN ANDREW SHEFFIELD: Sprint (Time) / The Bridge
Two new 7" singles from the Texas-based label Elevator Bath.
The second by Colin Andrew Sheffield (pressed on beautiful, clear vinyl), is an intriguing pair of tracks with a minimal, almost "microwave" feel to it. On Side A, the track "Sprint (Time)" is grounded in silence and comprised of clusters of sounds, shifting tones and crackles. Side B, "The Bridge", is more of a mood piece. Its sparse and isolated atmosphere provides the setting for further tonal shifts, clicks and pops. Incidentally, the crackle of the vinyl compliments these tracks wonderfully. Short and sweet, this excellent and very noteworthy single is limited to just 300 copies. [Richard di Santo]
I first heard d/compute (Alistair Crosbie) on one of Mouthmoth's excellent 7" compilations (Mothballs Volume 3). He provided a nice, mellow song with a warm atmosphere and a rolling drumkit rhythm. Very nice. Crosbie has also worked with Brian Lavelle as a member of the electronic improv duo Inversion. On this, his latest solo work and his first for Mouthmoth, Crosbie explores more aggressive and experimental territories. It begins in full force; two tracks with strong, hard-edged rhythms and aggressive synths. Things quiet down somewhat on the third track "to move the sun", with its deep, contemplative, and gamelan-inspired rhythm. For me, the least tolerable of the tracks here is "spine of the forest", with its hypnotic and intensifying clanging rhythm (it was just too much for my little old ears to take in one sitting!). The disc ends admirably, yet somewhat abruptly, with an bizarre rhythm and a multitude of little sounds and squiggles filling up all the empty spaces.
Over all, d/compute offers up a fine EP that fits in well with Mouthmoth's excellent catalogue of mysterious analog-based electronic music. [Richard di Santo]
A very strange title indeed, but the illustrations by Mouthmoth's resident cover artist Carol Meldrum are rather nice (in a sketchy, unfinished sort of way). Frog Pocket's latest EP picks up where their full-length My Favourites (also released on Mouthmoth) left off, developing and diverging from their commitment to anomalous rhythms and their distinctly post-Autechre sound. The first track of five is my favourite (not to be confused with the fourth track actually titled "My Favourite"). Smooth atmospheres drift with ephemeral ease around a sharp, bubbling and complex (read: uneven) rhythm. The track climaxes wonderfully with textures of electric guitar droning in the midground while the beats intensify, and then concludes just as everything collapses into a thunderous chaos of sound. Fantastic. Tracks 2 and 3 present more solid rhythms with harder beats, still slightly off-kilter, best suited for some otherworldly dancefloor. The fifth and final track winds things down with a mellow conclusion. Deep beats and a retro synth dominate this track that looks both forward and backward in the development of trends in electronic music (read: a nostalgia for yesterday's moog and a look forward to tomorrow's emphasis on incongruous rhythms).
Frog Pocket are definitely developing their sound in fun and interesting ways, which always makes it a pleasure to listen to their music. This one's no exception, and makes for another very fine release from Mouthmoth records. [Richard di Santo]
Here's an new collaboration between two ambient composers Mike Griffin and Dave Fulton, both of whom perform on "modular and digital synthesizers". Griffin is the founder of the Hypnos label, a member of Viridian Sun and has recorded many different ambient projects throughout the years. I don't know much about Fulton, except that he's a member of the group Dweller at the Threshold and that he contributed a rather nice track on Weightless, Effortless, a compilation of light, inconsequential ambient music released on Hypnos last year.
The Most Distant Point Known is traditional ambient music at its finest. There's not much that's new or innovative here, but clearly these tracks demonstrate that these two artists are masters of their element. Often reminiscent of Pete Namlook's sound (synth waves that move from the subterranean to the cosmic and back again), this music has definite old school affinities and was probably never intended to break with tradition. As a consequence, though I found this record to be pleasant to listen to, and though I can appreciate that it is masterfully executed, there's not much here to really capture and hold my attention. Nice sound, nice packaging, but not much more than a pleasant journey to while away the time. [Richard di Santo]
Ryoji Ikeda has always produced such stark, clinical recordings. He rarely conceals the sounds in his palette, and oftentimes it seems like he is presenting us with sound purity itself. Take, for example, his contribution to the 20' to 2000 series (on Raster-Noton), where he exploited the 440 Hz sine wave beyond its own structure, and you can begin to understand where his ears are. This new double-disc release sees him exploring similar territory, though here he does less of the work himself. This time, he is relying on the listener to do some of the work for him.
The first disc is titled matrix [for rooms], and with very good reason. The liner notes state that the recording "forms an invisible pattern which fills the listening space," whereby "the listener's movement transforms the phenomenon into his±her intrapersonal music." And truer this could not be. A simple, straight-ahead approach to listening to this disc will reveal very little change; it's only when one begins to walk around the room, slowly and steadily, to reveal the hidden patterns evident in the tracks. A shift of one's head to the left, and the change is obvious. Stand up, it changes again. I was never quite sure if it was my movements changing the sounds, or if Ikeda was changing the sounds at the precise moments I shifted around. For this reason, the disc should be played at a reasonable volume and from a capable sound system. The effect is virtually lost on smaller systems, and not half as dramatic.
One could argue that this effect is more than present on any number of
recordings, that a hurdy-gurdy or a bagpipe will sound different if you
face the speaker or turn away from it, but never has that audible shift
been so apparent, so feasible. Ikeda has created an undeniable soundspace
that one can walk right through and get lost in. Of course, one can't
creep around the room for the entire 60 minutes of the disc, and for that
reason there are subtle changes contained within of a more obvious nature.
Ikeda has constructed a very enticing and opposing set of discs here that play with some unique and well executed ideas. The sound quality is first-rate, and the binary number track listings (i.e. "0000000001") are the perfect match for this digital creation of his. [Vils M DiSanto]
Another truly exceptional release in Staalplaat's "material"
series of microglitch music. Twenty tracks exorcised with a keen sense
of brevity and wit, all encased in a cleverly designed package featuring
wavy, golden textures. There are definitive moments when this waviness
shines through in the recording, shimmering along and accented by snippets
of frequency manipulations. The whole package is kept to under thirty
minutes, which seems ideal. Any more, and Massimo would have run the risk
of boring us. Things being as they are, this Sicilian "son of a fish
trader" has given us some nice textures, rhythms, blips, and low
frequency swooshes to keep your speakers humming for a good half an hour.
[Vils M DiSanto]
Fax Label frontman Pete Namlook joins forces once again with Geir Jenssen (best known as Biosphere) for the long awaited follow-up to the first Fires of Ork CD released some 7 years ago. For this new release Fax has increased their circulation to 3000 (rather than the usual 1000), so one would hope that this one might not sell out so quickly.
Both of these artists have very strong and distinctive voices, making all of their projects and collaborations immediately identifiable. On this meeting ground their unique sound worlds compliment each other very well. Namlook's synthetic sojourns into ambient and cosmic space join up with Jenssen's trek toward the arctic circle to create a very distinctive and compelling sound environment.
Sound and mood elements familiar to Biosphere listeners return here in full form: an isolated winter landscape, slow rhythms and distant, lonely voices. Similarly, Namlook's trademark synth waves (or "swoops and swooshes") are unmistakable, embellishing the simultaneous isolation and warmth of the pieces. I have written "warmth" - and at first this may seem like a strange formulation - because it seems to me that though Biosphere's upland soundscapes present us with the coldest and loneliest of environments, I think it really matters to our experience of this music that we are (usually) in the warmth and comfort of our homes. And so there's always going to be this unwritten dialogue between the distinctive cold of the music and the warmth of the listener's actual environment.
There is some wonderful music here. "Sky Lounge", is a beautiful, jazzy lullaby that is at once carefree, nostalgic and contemplative; this is music for relaxation and for savouring the moment. A burgeoning yet restrained dancefloor rhythm creeps in and teases the listener in the final track "Nouvelles Machines". The slowly moving environments of "In Heaven", "When the Night was Black" and "A Way to Focus the Mind" take you through the darkest night and the deepest forest, in the heart of the winter season. In total, these five tracks present very strong sound environments; a fine accomplishment that comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
The Contemporary Nocturne is the sequel and natural conclusion to The Surreal Sanctuary, released last spring on Hypnos. This first disc revitalised my interest and admiration for Vidna Obmana's work. In it I discovered his passion for experimentation (which perhaps had always been there, but was something I could never quite put my finger on) and an impulse to reach beyond the realm of ethno-ambient clichés, where I found that much of his earlier work could often be pigeonholed. The Surreal Sanctuary opened up Obmana's sound palette for me; in it I discovered a wealth of detail and a subtlety of instrumentation and mood which fascinated and enthralled me, creating a unique sound environment in which I could repose for hours. The Contemporary Nocturne continues with the same musical motifs as its predecessor, and in it I found the same wealth of detail and experimental impulse that had first captured my attention. The instrumentation on this disc is varied; the tracks alternate partners and accompaniments from a list that includes double-bass, electric guitar, e-bow, overtone voice, flute, harmonics and fujara. For me, the most arresting and captivating piece on this record is "Revelation", featuring Jim Cole's haunting overtone singing, which was also featured on The Surreal Sanctuary, overtone flutes and fujara, crystal clear chimes, and of course a wealth of stunning atmospheres. But this record is all good; each track offers a unique yet complimentary atmosphere and mood, offering a balance of experimentation and tradition which is at once refreshing and safe at the same time. The final track, "Infinity", is a reworking of the first track on The Surreal Sanctuary, and in returning to this early motif it "closes the circle" of these two recordings in perfect symmetry. Together with its predecessor, The Contemporary Nocturne makes for one of the finest experimental ambient projects of the past year. [Richard di Santo]
Sahakieli is the improvisational collaboration between Panu Kari and Jyri Luukkonen. This short disc documents a recording session which took place during one weekend at a country cottage in Muurame, Finland. Twenty-three miniatures for non-traditional and invented instruments (with the exception of a mouth organ, sax and wooden flute), including a broken kantele with rusted strings, a "bone base" consisting of an e-string from a bass guitar strained over a plastic tub, and all manner of objects and elements (balloons, scissors, water, fire, canisters, a tin plate...). The pieces are wonderfully quirky, inventive and original. A buoyant and swaying leitmotif recurs at regular intervals. The sounds are diverse, sometimes shocking, but always creative and intriguing. In addition to being available on CDR, Sahakieli have posted their entire album for download at mp3.com, so check it out. [Richard di Santo]
Transjoik returns with a new album of throat joik, shaman frame-drums and ambient sonics. The group is now a quartet, consisting of Frode Fjellheim (synths, programming, vocals), Nils-Olav Johansen (guitar, bass, vocals), Snorre Bjerck and Tor Haugerud (both on percussions and vocals). The joik is a traditional form of throat singing of the Sámi people of the Scandinavian north.
Their previous album Mahkalahke (released in 1997, also on Atrium) was a tour de force of dark electronics, throat joik and deep percussion; its mood suggested simultaneous anger, anxiety and sadness. I was immediately drawn to their unique sound, powerful emotion and excellent sound production (through the use of parallel phase frequency linearizing software), however I did feel that their last album seemed a little overbearing and esoteric, the moods seem to be very heavy and would sometimes come on too strong.
For their new album Meavraa - the ancient voice, Transjoik has lightened the emotional weight somewhat, while still presenting very strong moods both light and dark. Their music, which use a combination of traditional throat joik and their own variation on that tradition, is an incredible fusion of tradition and experiment. Forceful and deep percussions, electronic guitar textures, and, of course, the unmistakable sound of throat joik mix with the more dominating and experimental "ambient sonics". "Vele Vele", for example, is a sad song sung in a fragile voice by Sigga Kuoljok, the accompanying instrumentation amplifies the emotion, making suggestions to the listener that what we are listening to is only a figure for much larger issues at hand. By contrast to the more rough sound of the throat joik, Sanna Kurki-Suonio sings on the track "Manala" with a sweet and smooth voice, which is a wonderful and refreshing touch in one of the best tracks on this disc. Other, more bizarre tracks include "Vargen" (the wolf), where the vocal samples are manipulated in imitation of a wolf's growl.
Listening to Transjoik makes me think about the timeless conflict of history versus modernity, tradition versus experiment, old versus new. The music of Transjoik is an interesting document; if the Sámi people and their traditions are under the threat of integration and dissolution (and this seems to be an a priori truth among any indigenous culture), then Transjoik offers a strange yet very satisfying solution. Answering to an ancient call (the term "meavraa" is defined as "the vocal sound of the shaman calling for his helping spirits"), but responding in a voice that is so young and so contemporary, Transjoik is being pulled on both sides with equal strength. The results are stunning and surprising. Meavraa comes highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]
Released in 1992, this was the first release for Bel Canto after Geir Jenssen left the group in order to pursue his solo career as Biosphere (with a stopover point as Bleep in the early 90s), leaving only Nils Johansen and Anneli Drecker to carry the torch. Bel Canto had released two excellent full lengths prior to this one. Their debut, White-Out Conditions (released in 1987), is a haunting blend of sad pop melodies with icy atmospheres and electronics. When listening to it now, this album seems like an anticipation of Jenssen's later development ("Upland", for example, could easily pass for an early Biosphere track). Their follow-up record, Birds of Passage (1990), is probably their best. Their arrangements became more tight and structured, and the instrumentation became more diverse; Drecker's voice became much stronger and more defined, while the lyrics became more complex. In short, Birds of Passage is the quintessential Bel Canto album, produced during the apex of their creativity as a collective, presenting a series of strong pop tunes with their own unique twist.
At first it wasn't clear how Jenssen's leaving would affect the group's sound. It's lead singer Anneli Drecker has always filled her songs with such a powerful voice and emotion. Her lyrics, both simple and rich in metaphor, have usually been stories of love and loss, of isolation and magic (only in recent years has she been writing more light, inconsequential pop melodies). In terms of technique, she has been able (and admirably so) to isolate the break in her voice and exploit it to create her own vocal rhythm and technique (see, for example, "look3" on Birds of Passage, where this "imperfection" in her voice is given a central role in the song's rhythm).
Shimmering, Warm & Bright, by its very title, signified a change in direction for the group. They employed a warmer sound, with comforting ambient textures by Johansen and diverse hand percussions by the very talented Andreas Eriksen. It carries remanants of, but is a far cry from, the icy atmospherics of their previous two albums. The songs on this record are really quite good. They never feel rushed or artificial; they move with great ease and develop naturally, carrying a healthy balance of rhythm, instrumentation, ambience and song. Consider the track "Die Geschichte Einer Mutter", an adaptation of a wonderful story by Hans Christian Andersen; it moves in distinct phases, like a structured drama, each part marked by a development in the instrumentation to correspond with the plot's development. The sad lullaby of "Sleep In Deep" drifts into the superb instrumental ambient piece "Buthania". Or consider the lyric ingenuity of the song "Waking Will", about the waking states of the mind and the power of dreams, where Drecker's final pronouncement, on being woken from her dream, is that "it's so autonomic". But there's an ironic twist put on the term "autonomic" (self-controlling, self-sustaining); the word is split in two, sung in two halves by two distinct voices. Weaker moments on the disc include the title track and "Spiderdust", both of which continue on the album's theme of fairy tales and magic, but in a more light and upbeat manner.
This album was followed by another two by the group (Magic Box in 1996 and Rush in 1998), both of which were largely disappointing. Their music seems to have lost that "timelessness" and intelligence that seemed so promising in their earlier work. Overall, Shimmering, Warm & Bright is a very fine and intelligent pop album with enough subtleties and nuances that reward the careful listener, and one that I have returned to regularly for a healthy dose of pop melodies and youthful nostalgia. [Richard di Santo]
A bit of a minor classic CD release here, this disc features the unbeatable 26-minute title track, an incessantly ritualistic pounding of drums, tinkling of bells and moaning of pagans. This track was recorded live in 1991, and truly is a classic. To me, no other track gathers together the mystique of ritual music as this one does. So simple, so basic, yet so powerful.
Although the title track is the unabashed star of the show, there are eight other tracks that follow, and while most are quite haunting, some are unfortunately just barely interesting. "Octahedron", "Kill The Beast" and "I Don't Believe In The Beast" push things a little too far, the latter two tracks especially with their heavy use of lines from the 1963 filmed version of Lord Of The Flies.
Some genuinely creepy moments exist on the disc though - in particular, "Wailing For The Falling Angel", which still has the ability to spook me to this day. The combination of the wailing, the low thumping bass drum and the low background chanting all combine to produce a heavily Gothic, inspired mayhem. Spooky stuff.
So while not a necessary addition to your library, it still makes for an interesting diversion now and again, whether or not you agree that the ritual should indeed be kept alive. [Vils M DiSanto]
The Incursion Music Review was published and edited by Richard di Santo from 2000 to 2004. All 75 issues can be accessed in the archive. Please note that we are no longer accepting submissions or promotional material for review.
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